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Events remembered

02 January 2015

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CHRISTMAS this year marked the anniversaries of two relatively contemporary events somewhat less joyous than the nativity. Fortunately, All Is Calm: The story of the Christmas Truce (Radio 2, Christmas Eve) managed to shake off that patina of sparkle that can so often tip Christmas programming over from magical to tacky; not least because our narrator on this occasion was John Hurt.

And, although this was material that has been seen and heard many times before (Carol Ann Duffy's poem must have out-recited "'Twas the night before Christmas" this year), the programme was deftly constructed, and included generous extracts from interviews with witnesses.

New (at least to this listener) were the accounts of the truce as reported soon after the event; and it is striking that its significance resonated with the same tone then as it does now. Thus an editorial in The Herald on 2 January 1915 opined: "It is especially saddening to think that such soldiers are not in charge of the affairs of Europe, instead of the diplomats and potentates. If they were, we might have a natural and human Europe."

Of the programmes marking the second anniversary - ten years since the Indian Ocean tsunami - the best came courtesy of World Service's Outlook strand (Christmas Eve). Banda Aceh, in Sumatra, lost over a half of its population to the disaster. Candida Beveridge revealed a world turned upside down, a social structure destroyed, and new political and cultural templates established. One of the rare positive outcomes of the disaster was the cessation of a 30-year-old civil war between separatist rebels and the government. Unchanged, by contrast, is people's faith in divine providence: after the litanies of bereavement, the second most common theme in Beveridge's interviews was expressions of acceptance of the will of God.

It would be remiss not to mention two programmes from the previous week which readers will still find on the BBC's Listen Again service. In the case of In Business: For ever and ever (Radio 4, 18 December), not because of the content itself; after all, conscientious Church Times readers will be aware of the financial challenges involved in running a cathedral. Perhaps more interesting for those who are in the know is the strong sense given by this programme of how widespread are the misconceptions are about cathedral funding.

The presenter, Peter Day, was surprised to find out that so many of the country's great edifices had little or no state or heritage grants to support them. On the other hand, it might surprise many of those acquainted with cathedral life that the notion of exploiting these splendid resources - as film sets or concert venues - is not as inappropriate to the outside world as they might fear.

In the case of Joan Bakewell's Suppose I Lose It (Radio 4, 16 December), the draw is surely the overriding importance of the subject-matter. Bakewell fears the onset of dementia, an affliction that is gradually diminishing the powers of her friend Prunella Scales. But her anxiety is that of anybody for whom names, recent events, and everyday details start to slip into the shadows.

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